After the end of World War II, women’s rights advocates at the United Nations vigorously campaigned for equality between the sexes. At the UN Charter Conference held in San Francisco in 1945, women delegates fought for the recognition of sex-based discrimination as a violation of human rights in Article 1 of the Charter. At the UN, issues relating to women were primarily placed under the purview of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), established in June 1946 with the mandate to “prepare recommendations and report to the Economic and Social Council on promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields.” Three main perspectives underpin feminist International Relations (IR) literature on the UN, gender and women: promoting women’s participation and inclusion of women’s issues at the UN; gender critique of the UN, geared towards institutional transformation; and challenging the universality of the UN. Despite some fundamental differences between these three strands of thinking, their political significance is widely acknowledged in the literature. The co-existence of these contentious viewpoints resonates with the vibrant feminist politics at the UN, and offers a fruitful avenue for envisioning a better intergovernmental organization. This is particularly relevant in light of feminist scholars’ engagement with activism and policymaking at the UN from the very beginning. Nevertheless, there are issues that deserve further consideration, such as the workings of the UN, as reflected in its unique diplomatic characteristics and bureaucratic practices.
UN, Gender, and Women
Law of the Sea
The International Law of the Sea, or simply Law of the Sea, is a body of legal norms that regulate the use of the seas and delineate the powers and jurisdiction of States over various parts of the seas. The evolution of the Law of the Sea can be divided into three different eras: the 17th-century great debate over open versus closed seas, era of codification, and era of institutionalization. The debate between early scholars over the issue of whether the sea was open to all and subject to the freedom of the seas (mare liberum or open seas) or whether the seas could be subject to sovereignty by States (mare clausum or closed seas) became the generally accepted basis for contemporary law of the sea. The era of codification saw the convening of three United Nations Conferences on the Law of the Sea—UNCLOS I, UNCLOS II, and UNCLOS III. The Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC), adopted in 1982, initiated an era of the institutionalization of the law of the sea. From early in the 21st century, the international community appears to be leaning toward closed seas, but there are also indications that cooperative arrangements among parties on the law of the sea will be more prevalent. An example of such initiative is the 1995 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
The Law of Genocide
Genocide is described as the most extreme form of crime against humanity; Winston Churchill even called it the “crime with no name.” The word “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer who embarked on a mission to persuade the international community to accept genocide as an international crime under international law. In 1946, the first session of the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring genocide as a crime under international law. This resolution became the basis for the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, introduced in 1948. However, it would take another fifty years before the Genocide Convention would establish an International Criminal Court that would prosecute international war criminals. In the 1990s, special ad hoc tribunals were created for Yugoslavia and Rwanda to deal with international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. In reaction to the failure of the international community to deal with genocide in Rwanda, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on the norm of “the Responsibility to Protect.” The Genocide Convention was tested in the case brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia (originally Serbia and Montenegro) in 1993. It was the first time in history that a sovereign state was placed on trial for the commission of genocide. The implications and ramifications of the International Court of Justice’s ruling that the Serbian government did not commit genocide in Bosnia became a subject of considerable debate among legal scholars.